A write laugh:
Paul Minett has written comedy scripts for some of the biggest names in showbiz – but he’s just as happy to help out his local theatre
Meet the comedy writer who’s written for the stars
What links comedy colossus Frankie Howerd and the Radio Fun show staged last November at Sheringham’s Little Theatre? Give up? Oh well, please yourselves... it’s Aylsham comedy writer Paul Minett, who, with writing partner Brian Leveson, penned scripts for both.
The Little Theatre Radio Fun show was a piece of entertainment in the mould of Round the Horne or The Goon Show, put on to raise funds for the theatre. “It went very well... people didn’t know what to expect, they come to see a radio show and sit and watch people reading scripts. But it’s a lot more than that, more interactive and panto-y and it went extremely well,” says Paul. In fact it raised £4,000, a good result for the theatre.
Paul became involved in the venue after he and his wife Ann moved to Norfolk four years ago. “It’s a place I’ve always loved and always come to,” says Paul. “My mother had a wartime friend, Madeline, who still lives in Aylsham– she’s 99 – and so it’s a place I was always brought up to from the year dot.
“Ann knew it and liked it and we decided it was a place to retire to.”
London-born Paul doesn’t miss the hectic lifestyle of the capital. He makes visits back to see Brian in Edgware and visit friends but is always happy to get on the train at Liverpool Street and head for Norwich.
He and Brian first got together when they worked in advertising in London in the 70s and became good mates. Brian belonged to an amateur dramatics group that performed sketches, something that the two got involved in as writers.
“I think it whizzed into the charts at about 98 and dropped straight out the week after!”
They then took different paths for a few years but got back together later when Paul was working for EMI. At that time EMI was looking to sign comedy superstar Les Dawson. They wanted a mother-in-law song for him, and asked Paul and Brian to produce something.
In the end EMI didn’t sign Dawson but they did sign Russ Abbott and the pair wrote a comedy single for him. “I think it whizzed into the charts at about 98 and dropped straight out the week after!” says Brian.
But that fizzle became a big bang for the pair when Abbott’s TV producer picked the single for the 1981 Russ Abbott Boxing Day Show. He liked what he saw, got in touch with the duo and gave them their big
break, writing for one of television’s biggest names.
“The Russ Abbott Show was a big show in the 1980s and so we joined a good few rungs up the ladder for comedy script writers,” says Paul. And with that they were in an exclusive club; Russ Abbott’s producer took the pair on to work with Stanley Baxter, then spells with Les Dennis and Dustin Gee followed.
“There were so many sketch shows around that time, with the likes of Cannon and Ball, Little and Large all looking for material. We were lucky to become a part of that,” says Paul. They also had work accepted by The Two Ronnies for their TV show, towards the twilight of their stellar career.
Who did Paul enjoy working with the most? “Everybody’s very different. We started with Russ and we’re still very friendly with Russ, so he is a special guy we loved working with. Les Dawson was really nice; Cannon and Ball were great fun to work with as well,” he says.
One of the pair’s strengths was their versatility and ability to adapt, which won them a lot of work – for instance the chance to script for Frankie Howerd in an ITV special, Further Up Pompeii. Paul does admit to being occasionally awed by the people they were working with. “We were fans – you think ‘Oh my God we’re writing for Frankie Howerd!’ It was a wee bit daunting...”
Paul enjoys contemporary comedy – he loved Fleabag and Motherland – but feels that while many of the modern crop of stand-up comics are good, they are less all-round entertainers, apart from perhaps Michael McIntyre.
He still believes there is an appetite for the ‘classic’ style of programme but feels that makers are shying away from making more traditional shows.
“In our book Porridge is the best comedy sitcom and shows like The Good Life and Ever Decreasing Circles are our kind of area and I personally think there is still room for them and an audience for them, but the TV companies don’t,” he says.
He points to a couple of recent examples where the BBC have tried; Hold the Sunset with John Cleese and Alison Steadman and Warren with Martin Clunes, which aired for six episodes early last year but was axed shortly after screening. “They didn’t work and the BBC seemed to say ‘this doesn’t work anymore’ and walked away from it.”
Paul and Brian have had longer format success with The Booze Cruise for ITV, which featured a big-name cast including Clunes, Brian Murphy, Neil Pearson and a young unknown, Ben Whishaw.
He says that he and Brian have always written professionally as a pair, in the tradition of Croft and Perry or Galton and Simpson. “A lot of solo writers can’t understand how two people can write together. We’ve always worked together.
We’re different to an extent – Lev is more emotional, I’m more laid back. And he can type! But we often end each other’s sentences and talk in comedy shorthand and that kind of stuff.”
There have been few fireworks though, or big creative differences. “We kind of just had this rule that if either of us felt it wasn’t working or we didn’t like it then it
“We were fans – you think ‘Oh my God we’re writing for Frankie Howerd!”
didn’t go in. We stuck to that and so for the most part didn’t fall out.”
They are still pushing ideas out there but it’s tough, says Paul, a little ruefully. “I’m not sure if TV companies want our stuff anymore. We had an idea with a familystyle sitcom with Anne Reid and Simon Callow attached to it. I don’t think we even got a toe in the door with that.”
But Paul does still enjoy performing and with a bit of luck you might see him on the boards at Sheringham Little Theatre. “I’d love to do it – I really do enjoy it.”
ABOVE : Comedy writing duo Paul Minett and Brian Leveson with Frankie Howerd on the set of Up Pompeii LEFT: With Barry Cryer and Russ Abbott RIGHT: Paul and Brian with David Frost
ABOVE: The cast of The Booze Cruise